A ball in his court: longtime SAU coach Kilfoy honored


By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT —­ “Mr. St. Ambrose,” Leo Kilfoy, now has a basketball court named in his honor.

St. Ambrose University officials dedicated its basketball court — with “Leo Kilfoy Court” painted prominently on the floorboards — between basketball games in Lee Lohman Arena on Nov. 15.

Anne Marie Amacher
Leo Kilfoy, left, receives congratulations from Ray Shovlain, center, St. Ambrose University’s athletic director and head men’s basketball coach, and Thom Cornelis.

Kilfoy, 85, graduated from St. Ambrose in 1951 and worked at the college, then university, for 48 years. He said he chose to attend St. Ambrose for one reason. Six or seven colleges sent assistant coaches or alumni to recruit him as a student athlete. “St. Ambrose was the only college that sent their head coach to talk to me and my parents face to face.” That was the deciding factor.


He graduated from St. Ambrose College in 1951 with a major in physical education and a minor in history. After college he taught and coached at Cathedral High School in Springfield, Ill., from 1951-54. Kilfoy began his 48-year career at St. Ambrose in 1954. He retired in 2002.

During his tenure Kilfoy taught academic classes in theory as well as physical education. He was an assistant coach and/or coach in football, basketball, tennis and track at St. Ambrose. For 48 years Kilfoy also served as director of intramurals and recreation; he chaired the physical education department for 23 years; and worked as athletic director for six years.

Numerous honors and awards have come his way from St. Ambrose and the Chicago area.

He has three athletic hall of fame awards, a St. George High School Alumni Association Man of the Year award (Evanston, Ill.), and several annual awards from St. Ambrose including the Bishop McMullen Award. He also is one of four founders of the monthly St. Ambrose Breakfast Club.

A member of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, he has served there as a head usher. He also has served on the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors; St. Patrick Society Board of Directors as the society’s grand marshal; and as an American Red Cross swimming and CPR instructor.

“This is a great honor,” Kilfoy said before the court-naming ceremony. “Ambrose has really advanced in so many ways athletically and academically,” he said. “This day only happens once in a lifetime and it brings back so many memories.”

Anne Marie Amacher
Kilfoy and his wife, Shirley, pose on the SAU basketball court. The court was named after Kilfoy – a longtime teacher, coach and administrator — during a Nov. 15 ceremony.

Ed Rogalski, former dean and president of St. Ambrose, supervised Kilfoy for several years when Kilfoy was athletic director and coach. “He is a legend. He accomplished so many things without a lot of revenue and limited resources,” Rogalski said. Before Lee Lohman Arena was built, St. Ambrose played home games at Assumption High School in Davenport. “He made it our home even though we didn’t have a true ‘home court advantage,’” Rogalski added.

Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president of St. Ambrose, said “Leo Kilfoy’s name came right to the top” when the university was discussing who embodies the university’s spirit and values. “We decided to honor him with an everlasting tribute.”

During the dedication, Sr. Lescinski highlighted Kilfoy’s achievements and pointed out that he coached Ray Shovlain as a student. Shovlain went on to be assistant coach under Kilfoy in 1980. Now Shovlain is head men’s basketball coach and athletic director for St. Ambrose.

Shovlain said the tribute is well-deserved and that Kilfoy is a true Ambrosian. “He is generous with his time and talent.”

Speaking to the coach, Shovlain said, “I give sincere thanks to you for helping get me to where I am today. I am indebted to you. Thank you very much, coach.”

Sr. Lescinski blessed the Leo Kilfoy Court as those gathered for the ceremony participated.

“This is certainly a proud day for the Fighting Bees and the Kilfoy family. This is an honor richly deserved.”

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